The New Yorker has a
disturbing new articlesuggesting a popular police interrogation technique is prone to producing false confessions.
Police interrogators who use “the Reid Technique” first assess suspects’ body language to determine whether they’re lying.
Next, if it seems like they are lying, those interrogators prod them to confess. Interrogators downplay the seriousness of the crime and pretend to have evidence that doesn’t exist, Douglas Starr writes in The New Yorker.
“Why were your fingerprints found on the gun?” an interrogator might say.
John E. Reid & Associates Inc. — which originated the technique — trains more interrogators than any other company in the world, Starr writes. That’s a little scary since experts told Starr that “Reid-style” techniques can produce false confessions. Psychology professor named Saul Kassin believes the technique is “inherently coercive,” Starr writes.
“The interrogator’s refusal to listen to a suspect’s denials creates feelings of hopelessness, which are compounded by the fake file and by lies about the evidence,” Starr writes, summing up Kassin’s viewpoint. “At this point, short-term thinking takes over. Confession opens something of an escape hatch, so it is only natural that some people choose it.”
Kassin has used the Reid Technique to obtain false confessions from students during a research experiment. His study has been criticised since those students falsely “confessed” to hitting the Alt key on a keyboard, which of course has less serious consequences than, say, murder.
But the Reid Technique has also produced false confessions in real life. One unfortunate suspect, Darrel Parker, confessed to killing his wife in 1955 after being interrogated by “Reid Technique” founder John Reid himself.
Parker’s name was only cleared decades later after a man in prison provided a detailed confession to the crime.
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